On Veterans Day, Americans honor their soldiers. But this week, arriving as it did on the heels of a pretty monumental Election Day, I thought it seemed appropriate to salute those who are helping us win a different form of battle: the culture wars.
November 6 was a watershed moment. If there was any remaining doubt that the fight for equal marriage will (eventually) be won, the fact that Maine, Maryland, and Washington became the first states to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote should mark a clear turning of the tides. (Minnesota, in related good gay news, defeated a proposed constitutional amendment that would have prohibited it.) Yes, it’s true that the issue of basic civil rights should never be subjected to the ballot box in the first place. It’s true that there are still more than 30 states have that have already adopted anti-equal marriage amendments. And it’s true that there’s still the pesky specter of DOMA hanging overhead, threatening to rain on the rainbow.
But even accepting those caveats, it’s hard to overstate the importance of the election results. They have robbed equal marriage opponents of a crucial fallback argument: that Americans “don’t want” equal marriage, and that it has only been forced down gagging throats by activist judges and out-of-touch legislators. Average voters gave that talking point a big, fat middle finger – from four different states, representing four different regions of the country. (And only one of them was in namby-pamby New England, where such wacky politics are presumably to be expected.)
Add to this increasingly heartening statistics, like last year’s Gallup report that 70 percent of Americans age 18-35 support same-sex marriage. That’s not the sign of an upward trend; it’s the sign of an unequivocal, permanent cultural change. The future is only going to get brighter.
Of course, that’s only because so many LGBT activists weathered stormier skies. Some stood out in the rain with picket signs. Others took hail-sized hits to their reputation, community standing, or livelihood because they stood bravely on the front lines of a community’s long, forward-marching movement
And in a culture war as in any other, many—too many—paid the ultimate price. Because it is no small sacrifice to dare to live and love in a world that surrounds you with hate.
I think there is an assumption that members of my generation, the aforementioned aged 18-35 set, fail to appreciate the contributions of older LGBT folks. That we live in a sheltered bubble filled with hymnal Born This Way anthems and shiny, happy, out and proud talk show hosts with whom our suburban soccer moms gleefully share a cup of morning coffee.
I understand why this assumption exists. I’ve noticed that even within the relatively narrow window of my own Gallup-delineated age group, there are vast differences in how acclimated some are to a Gay’s-Okay world. Being closer to the 35 end of that spectrum, I thought it was cool (and even a little edgy) to see Jack and Karen make gay lingo-drenched double entendres on Will & Grace; those closer to the 18 side of things grew up without blinking an eye when gay teens kiss on Glee. (Incidentally, regarding said smooches my prideful ‘90s teen can’t help but point out: “Dawson’s Creek did it first!”) The experience of a young LGBT person in 2012 is significantly different than it was for one even ten years ago. The difference becomes exponentially greater as you talk about twenty years ago, or thirty years, or longer.
So it’s true that without historic context, some young people fail to appreciate – at least fully – the contributions of those who fought for their freedoms. It’s similar to the taken-for-granted-ness that comes when you grow up in peacetime. Sometimes it takes a safe bubble bursting 9/11 moment to suddenly galvanize verve and newfound appreciation for veterans. (For many younger people, Prop 8 was the moment that sparked the fire of so-dubbed “Stonewall 2.0” activism.)
But I hope those who have contributed so immensely to our community’s victories (and not just the recent, marriage-related triumphs) know that those darn kids are grateful. A few months ago I spoke with Julie Goodridge for a story I was working on about former governor Romney. To many of you, Julie is probably a friend, a neighbor - just another friendly face. But I’ll admit, I found it a heady experience to be talking to the namesake of a decision that altered the history of civil rights. The Goodridge case was “my” milestone. (One with a happier ending than Prop 8.) We studied it in college, through classroom discussions and State House visits; it was history being made, unfolding in real time only blocks away. Before I hung up the phone with Julie, I made sure to thank her. As a journalist, I wasn’t sure if I should. (It felt like the news piece equivalent of asking a celebrity for an autograph.) But as a human being, I didn’t think I could not. Maybe an 18-year old would be more impressed that I interviewed Lady Gaga - but to me, this was the much cooler conversation.
So this week, a quick message to those who have served our community so well, and something that I hope you hear more often from the younger generation. You deserve to, whether you’ve lobbied to change law or to address health disparities. Whether you’ve donated your dollars or your time, shared your stories or your art. Maybe you’ve just been a good friend, a doting gay uncle or aunt, or a loving parent. Through that, you’ve created a new generation that may sometimes take you for granted – but only because you did such a fine job.
To our veterans: thank you.